How did I get here?
Unlocking Silent Histories will be the first of many youth-created documentaries. My name is Donna DeGennaro, and I am very passionate about helping youth use technology to tell stories through their eyes. This idea comes from my long history of working with kids in different cultures.
It all started when I had to think of a dissertation topic. I wanted to put technology in the hands of youth so that they could illustrate what they knew, cared about, and hoped for in their futures. I envisioned this as a unique opportunity to help youth feel empowered. I believed that through insights gained as they investigated, recorded, and analyzed their films, that these youth would obtain the knowledge and tools to help solve the issues and problems of their economically challenged communities. In a technology enhanced and rapidly changing world, overcoming the digital divide was underlying this vision.
Unfortunately, during my dissertation days, video technologies were cumbersome and expensive. So, for my thesis, I organized and directed an after school program where youth were able to design websites about themselves. As video technologies became more portable and affordable, I started to study how underrepresented youth used video to tell stories. I observed how others were doing this work and my research stirred up my concern that adults drove these stories, instead of the children who appeared to be (and are supposed to be) running the show. The stories were not truly the ideas of the kids, nor did they accurately reflect their cultures. It was then that I sought out places to create my own digital story/documentary programs. I created programs in Boston and in the Dominican Republic. I was so inspired by the kids I worked with that I became determined to take a year and fully dedicate my time to finding a group of kids to work with on a more consistent basis. I was drawn to Guatemala because of the unique opportunity to work with kids of different cultures within in one particular region: Lake Atitlan and the central highlands.
Why begin at Lake Atitlan Guatemala?
Lake Atitlan and its surrounding area is an ideal place to start such a project, as the lake region has many different villages that are in close proximity. The youth I have met here are from the villages of Panajachel, Santiago Atitlan, and Chirjox. They are positive and eager for learning opportunities; and since in many cases such opportunities can be scarce because of extreme poverty, they are particularly excited about using videos as a way to tell their stories. The other great part of being here is that it reflects my original vision of wanting kids to share stories with other peers from different cultures. While there are cultural similarities within this region, the individual communities have different histories, customs, and indigenous languages. Working with youth around the lake, they will create individual and personal stories, share them, and collaborate with me to storyboard a documentary that threads their similarities and differences. By bringing all of these similarities together and showing the youth storytellers how their narratives pertain or affect other youth stories, the personal documentary becomes a tool to help bridge the gaps between differences among the communities.
History of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The mostly indigenous population around the lake - is deeply embedded with historical events that still impact the indigenous people who make up approximately 75% of the population and of whom, many continue to live below the poverty line. The impoverished conditions are a direct consequence of oppression brought about by both Spanish colonization and then by the more recent armed conflict that took place between 1960 and 1996. Many indigenous have been taught to keep their histories, and therefore the abuse they suffered, silent because they have been afraid to express themselves freely and openly without criticism. Silenced, they have become victims of strong discrimination, marginalization, and classism. Indigenous community members do not often reveal the details of the many family members that they have lost- and much less how it happened or what caused it. Often loved ones disappeared without a trace or any knowledge what came about of them. Yet, their resilience to thrive and build successful businesses holds stories about what it means to be Maya, conflict is overcome, and how oppression has shaped their existence. In telling their stories, we will see the spirit and pride that has bonded families and the community in general, as well as the resilience of these societies. These narratives are not unique to Guatemala; however, it is a key place to allow these youth to tell their stories and help us to see the relationships and affects of these similar, yet different histories.
What is the goal
of this documentary?
Between my previous experiences and my new connections, I have constructed our team, and we have begun making a particular documentary- one that will reflect the visions of a group of underprivileged youth here in Lake Atitlan. That team includes Drew DeGennaro (videographer), Marcelle Renkin (community expert), and Jorgelina Abbate (documentary translation). You will be seeing more specific information on each of us below.
The twelve kids committed to this film will be the center point of the story's creation: they will write, direct and produce their own stories. Our commitement is to have narratives told by the children. The final, full-length documentary is a starting point for how video stories can get youth talking about of their different communities and cultures. Their neighborhoods and societies are different, but storytelling through video will stir conversations and ideas about how they can work together as a community to voice, think about and address their neighbors concerns by seeing and showing what conditions, good or bad, that they live in.
We have four goals for the final stories:
1) Create a Documentary: These stories will combine viewpoints from the cultures around the lake to create a larger feature film that will consist of the variance in ideas, culture, and opinions of the participating youth. Once we have defined the thread between the stories, we will connect them.
2) Feature the Stories: We will have community showings of the individual stories in each of the communities (Chirijox, Panajachel, and Santiago Atitilan)
3) Construct a Web Portal: In keeping with the initial vision of connecting youth from around the world, we will create a website where this story will be the first of many that are shared. The purpose is to provide a platform where youth can exchange their stories and problem solving ideas and gain instights into their similarities and differences. In many of these locations internet connections are slow or absent. Thus we aim to create a network of distributions to share videos and correspondences through other more traditional means.
4) Empower Youth and Generate Sustainable Leadership: This project is an educational endeavor in and of itself. Kids learn digital, analyical, creative, critical, and collaborative skills. Youth involved in this project are committed to carrying on the project and teaching other youth connected to Maya Traditions.
Where will your funds go?
We would be honored if you choose to support Unlocking Silent Histories. The donations, first and foremost, will be used to fund the materials that we need for providing a platform for youth voice through video stories. These are essential tools for the success of this endeavor. With the funds, we will provide all of these listed effects, as well as more: 1) Provide transportation for youth to travel to the workshop center; 2) purchase additional cameras for the youth; 3) offer stipends to the youth for their leadership work; 4) translate the final product into: English, Spanish, and Kaqchiquel, Tzutujil, and Kiche; and finally, 5) complete editing and production.
We begin with a workshop to teach youth about how using video can be a powerful way to tell their stories. Our staff wants the youth to understand how to tell story through film, not just capture it on video. In February and June, our videographer will travel to Guatemala to collaborate with the kids, staff and me. Each member of our team will contribute to helping the kids develop skills like scripting, artistic filming, and the translation their ideas to storyboards and on to individual video accounts. Finally, we’ll work together to combine the different youth stories into one final product that showcases all of the recordings. The staff and I hope to have the entire, full-length documentary completed by early fall, 2013.
Who we are and our experiences to complete this documentary: Project Leader: Donna DeGennaro studies how youth use technology to take ownership of their own learning from cultural, historical, and creative perspectives. She has traveled to the Dominican Republic five times to work on a similar project with youth in an impoverished rural community. She also established a partnership with a school in Dorchester, MA, where youth there also worked with video in order to analyze and reimage stereotypes. Both experiences have led to the development of this idea. Please visit the “my projects” section of my website: http://donnadegennaro.com/Projects.html for more details on her work.
Videographer and Post Production Supervisor
Drew DeGennaro is a photographer and filmmaker. He loves to work with eager people and especially enthusiastic youth. His passions come from creating personal expression in his art. He joined the organization to help inspire and connect youth across the any cultures start to understand each other a little bit better. His work can be found at http://vimeo.com/drewdvisions.
Community Organization Director:
Marcelle Renkin is the director of Maya Traditions (a local organization that works with indigenous mothers and their children). She contacted Donna when she heard what she was planning on doing. Interested, she invited her to talk about how we might collaborate on the development. She has an inspirational set of co-workers, all of whom create unique opportunities for some amazing, very talented youth around Lake Atitlan. She was so excited about this opportunity for her students that she immediately made it possible for Donna to meet and invite the group to participate. After introducing the concept to the excited assembly, she helped to organize a group of enthusiastic kids ready to learn how to tell their lives through the exciting technology of video. http://www.mayatraditions.org/
Jorgelina Abbate-Vaughn is excited to be part of this project. She is captivated by the vision that Donna has to work with indigenous youth. She identifies with the youth in Guatemala as she has indigenous roots and grew up in similar conditions in Argentina. http://www.jorgelinaabbate-vaughn.org/
Risks and challenges
Working with youth has unique challenges of its own; however, working with marginalized youth in low income communities with poor educational systems has even more distinctive obstacles. First and foremost, asking youth to lead their process of identifying what story they want to tell takes effort. Youth are use to being told what to do rather then to develop personally defined guidelines and ideas. Yet in my work with youth, I have been developing strategies to help them succeed in generating stories that truly come from them. In addition, working populations of youth that struggle economically, I have found that outside responsibilities such as caring for family and working to make money can delay the original timeline set to complete this kind of work. It is important that we be flexible with youth when helping them to identify a timeline that does not create a hardship for them or their families. In my past projects I have worked with youth to have them co-create customized timelines that fit their particular circumstances and integrate with their lifestyles. We also envision using this funding to provide stipends to youth to alleviate some of the financial difficulty.
In terms of productions, (in-process and finalization), I have come across technological difficulties. These have included the storage and organization of video, the conversion of media formats and the storage space to complete each story. My twenty years of experience in educational technology and my more recent experience working with youth on digital stories has provided the foresight to minimize previous challenges that I have encountered. The final post-production challenge will be the completion of the documentary that integrates the youth stories. First, a great deal of time needs to be dedicated to analyzing and organizing themes that weave these stories together. Funding from kickstarter will allow me to dedicate more time to ongoing analysis and to visiting youth in their communities to cross check my themes with the youth. This ongoing process enables me to maintain a projected post-production timeline. Next, my videographer will need to travel to Guatemala to visit the communities as well. He will need to review my storyboard of the integrated stories in order to plan the footage he needs in order to maximize his time in Guatemala. He has been working on similar projects for over a year and has the experience to create a detailed plan to finalize the documentary. Finally, the translations to make the documentary available in two local languages as well as in English will take time. The funding from kickstarter will allow us to ask our translators to dedicate time to doing this work in a timely fashion. We are prepared for and looking forward to the potentials of this project. We are aware of and ready for the risks and challenges as our experiences give us confidence to maintain and overcome them. Please help us to provide youth with this unique opportunity!
- (30 days)